As a parent, there are a lot of times I have wanted to change my mind about something Greg and I already decided because the easier option is so much more appealing in the moment. Last week, for the second time, I was ready to undo potty training Zach. (The first was in the middle of it.)
For the six of you who read my sporadic blog faithfully, you will recall that a week ago, Zach was interrupted – mid-business – by an automatically-flushing toilet that launched a powerful whirlpool attack underneath him. The two days that ensued are a blur of pee accidents: at a friend’s house for dinner, at the breakfast table in his seat, twice in Eliza’s bed, and perhaps others that I’ve blocked from memory. (Greg was traveling for work and I was in a place where I might have approached a stranger to “borrow” my children for a few hours. Is anybody with me?)
Zach had become terrified of every toilet. It broke my heart. He would walk up to the potty whimpering, pull his pants down, sit down, and cry, “All done, all done!” before letting anything out. He knew what he was supposed to do, but he just couldn’t do it. And frankly, I thought I had done enough pee-cleaning duty two weeks earlier when we trained him. I really wasn’t interested in going back to that place. I wanted to give up and put him back in diapers.
But I knew that Zach wanted to do what he had learned and fear was the problem. I assumed I would confuse him if I asked him to use a diaper again. I imagined him as a five-year-old, still conflicted about where he was supposed to dispose of his waste. I envisioned him holding it all in anyway, afraid to let it out in the diaper because he knew that wasn’t the right place for it either. So I didn’t give in to the seemingly easier choice in the moment. I stuck to the plan.
I’m so glad I did. On Wednesday morning, reluctantly, I took Zach to the museum-like house where I have a Bible study and took him to the basement, describing to the babysitters our situation. I went down a couple of times to take him to his potty that I brought along for familiarity. I knew he had to go. He knew he had to go. I was frustrated. He was uncomfortable. I told him it was going to be okay. I told him the potty could not flush. I named all the people who would be proud of him for letting his pee pee out, including Buzz Light Year and Lightning McQueen.
He still held it in.
He got to a whimpering point. I had lost my patience. I was done talking sweetly because the niceties were not working. He was sitting on the potty, crying in fear. And I stared him down. In that tone every mother has that says I mean business, I demanded, “Zach, we have to leave soon to get Eliza, but I’m not going until you pee. You MUST let your pee pee out.” And his eyes got really big, with full tears waiting to fall, and he released it. And then he smiled, and started telling me in a delighted way how happy he was that he was peeing in the potty. It was like he flipped a switch.
That was Wednesday last week, and for the next two days, I stayed close to the toilet, asked him often if he needed to go, and gave him cookies and gummy snacks every time he got it right. We went to New York on Friday for the weekend. He spent hours in the car. We went to the zoo. He used public toilets successfully, even the auto-flushing ones. And he has not had an accident in five days. The training stuck. I knew that he knew what to do. He had to overcome his fear, and he did. I’m so proud of him.
I know that as my kids grow, there are going to be a lot of times they’re afraid, and it’s going to be so challenging to know when to push them and when to give in. I often ask myself what the harder thing to do is, because more often than not and unfortunately for us as parents, the harder thing to do is the right thing to do.
If you learn anything from this, remember not to put your kids on automatically-flushing toilets. Both of my children have suffered from toilet flushing trauma disorder. And if you have no other option (HERE’S ONE!), then cover the sensor with your hand the WHOLE time your child is on the seat. Leave no room for accidental flushings. It might be difficult in the moment to both cover the sensor and keep your kid from falling in, but in the long run, you could save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.